Big Ten Football 2013 Schedule Analysis

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Will Ohio State go unbeaten in 2013?

<p> Big Ten Football 2013 Schedule Analysis</p>

The start of the 2013 college football season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about preseason predictions and some of the top games to watch in each conference.

Scheduling has been a hot topic in the Big Ten recently, as the conference is expected to move to a nine-game slate in the future. Maryland and Rutgers are slated to join the Big Ten in 2014, and an increased conference schedule is coming (likely) in 2016.

But for 2013, the Big Ten is at 12 teams and the usual eight-game slate. Ohio State is a heavy favorite to win the conference title, but Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan State could all be top-25 teams in most preseason polls.

Athlon continues its spring coverage with Big Ten schedule analysis for 2013:

Leaders Division

Illinois

Aug. 31 Southern Illinois
Sept. 7 Cincinnati
Sept. 14 Washington
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 5 at Nebraska
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 Wisconsin
Oct. 26 Michigan State
Nov. 2 at Penn State
Nov. 9 at Indiana
Nov. 16 Ohio State
Nov. 23 at Purdue
Nov. 30 Northwestern

* While all four non-conference games will be at home for Illinois, three of the four won’t be easy. Cincinnati and Washington might both be favored over the struggling Illini while Miami (Ohio) is always a tricky out for Big Ten teams. Two non-conference losses to start the year could doom Tim Beckman’s second year.

* Big Ten play starts for Illinois with arguably four of the top six teams in the league. The consistency of powerhouse divisional rivals like Wisconsin and Penn State is what Illinois aspires to and these two outscored the Illini 66-21 a year ago. Playing Michigan State and Nebraska (as well as Northwestern) in crossover play is about as brutal as it gets.

* Illinois will play six of its first seven games at home and three of its last five on the road.

* Despite a home game with Ohio State mixed in, the final month of the season is where Beckman’s team can make some headway. Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern could be competitive games and will be huge barometer tests for a coach finishing his second season on the job.
 

Indiana

Aug. 29 Indiana State (Thur.)
Sept. 7 Navy
Sept. 14 Bowling Green
Sept. 21 Missouri
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Penn State
Oct. 12 at Michigan State
Oct. 19 at Michigan
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 Minnesota
Nov. 9 Illinois
Nov. 16 at Wisconsin
Nov. 23 at Ohio State
Nov. 30 Purdue

* Making headway early in the year will be key for Kevin Wilson and his growing Hoosiers. A non-conference slate could feature three straight wins to start and will build up to the key swing game with Missouri. A home win over an SEC team would be a landmark victory for IU and it could mean a bowl game.

* Indiana has a nasty month of October to navigate between off weekends. The three-game stretch features Penn State and two road trips North to Michigan sandwiched between the two bye weeks — which is the only welcome sight during the second month of the year.

* The final month offers some intriguing opportunities — Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue — and two huge "prove it" games with Wisconsin and Ohio State. If Wilson can beat the bad teams, Indiana could easily earn a postseason berth.

* Forget about buying road tickets to support your Hoosiers in 2013. It might be the toughest road schedule in the history of the Big Ten, as Indiana will visit Michigan and Michigan State in crossover play as well as Ohio State and Wisconsin in the division. Best of luck to Mr. Wilson and company.
 

Ohio State

Aug. 31 Buffalo
Sept. 7 San Diego State
Sept. 14 at Cal
Sept. 21 Florida A&M
Sept. 28 Wisconsin
Oct. 5 at Northwestern
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 Iowa
Oct. 26 Penn State
Nov. 2 at Purdue
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Illinois
Nov. 23 Indiana
Nov. 30 at Michigan

* The non-conference slate should offer little to challenge Ohio State other than a long road trip to Cal. The Bears' new coaching staff and stadium will likely be fired up for Ohio State but do they have the players to compete with the Buckeyes? Doubtful.

* There is no break early in the year, however, as Ohio State will play six straight to start including two key Big Ten matchups to begin conference play. Wisconsin at home and at Northwestern will set the tone for the Big Ten season prior to the first off week.

* Located between the bye weeks in October is an intriguing three-game stretch. Iowa at home doesn’t figure to be too difficult but hosting Penn State will be exciting. And visiting Ross-Ade Stadium in Purdue likely causes nightmares for Bucknuts everywhere. Ohio State has lost two in a row in West Lafeyette, Ind.

* The final month of the season figures to be warm up for the best rivalry in college football. Despite the history with Purdue, Ohio State will be a heavy favorite in its first three November games before having to travel North to take on Michigan.

* For a team that figures to be among the top five in the preseason polls, this is a very manageable schedule.


Penn State

Aug. 31 Syracuse
Sept. 7 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 14 UCF
Sept. 21 Kent State
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 at Indiana
Oct. 12 Michigan
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 at Ohio State
Nov. 2 Illinois
Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 16 Purdue
Nov. 23 Nebraska
Nov. 30 at Wisconsin

* Four fairly easy non-conference games will help Bill O’Brien break in a new quarterback and new linebacking corps. Yes, Syracuse has been tricky of late but it also is replacing its star quarterback and head coach. A 4-0 start is very possible before the first bye week of the year separates the Big Ten slate from the non-conference tilts.

* The second bye week is perfectly situated between what should be the two toughest games of the year. Following a visit from Michigan in mid-October, Penn State will get two weeks to prepare for a brutal road trip to Ohio State.

* The Nittany Lions will get a breather following their trip to Columbus. Penn State will face Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue in three consecutive weeks, which should allow O’Brien to seal a second straight winning season.

* Any wins in the season’s final two weekends would be an extra bonus. This team will be dramatically better at season’s end than at the beginning and finishing with both Big Red’s will be tough. However, a win in either of those two could give PSU as many as eight or even nine wins.
 

Purdue

Aug. 31 at Cincinnati
Sept. 7 Indiana State
Sept. 14 Notre Dame
Sept. 21 at Wisconsin
Sept. 28 Northern Illinois
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 Nebraska
Oct. 19 at Michigan State
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 Ohio State
Nov. 9 Iowa
Nov. 16 at Penn State
Nov. 23 Illinois
Nov. 30 at Indiana

* No team in the league has a tougher start to the season than Purdue — both in and out of the Big Ten. In non-conference play, the Boilermakers will play two BCS bowl teams in Northern Illinois and Notre Dame while having to visit Big East co-champ Cincinnati in Week 1. A 1-3 non-con record isn’t far-fetched for new coach Darrell Hazell.

* Mixed in with the tough non-conference slate is a road trip to Wisconsin followed by a home game with Nebraska and a road trip to Michigan State. Those are the first seven for Purdue and 1-6 isn’t out of the question. At least this team will get a breather following the first seven with the second bye week of the season. Well, before Ohio State comes to town.

* The second half provides some easier tests but isn’t much better than the first. Ohio State, Iowa and Illinois will visit West Lafayette while Purdue will visit Penn State and Indiana over the final five weeks. Yes, Purdue has been good against OSU at home of late, but it will be a huge underdog this time around. This a nasty schedule, perhaps the league’s toughest, and Purdue will be favored in no more than five games (Indiana State, Northern Illinois, Iowa, Illinois, at Indiana) and more likely just three.
 

Wisconsin

Aug. 31 UMass
Sept. 7 Tennessee Tech
Sept. 14 at Arizona State
Sept. 21 Purdue
Sept. 28 at Ohio State
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 Northwestern
Oct. 19 at Illinois
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 at Iowa
Nov. 9 BYU
Nov. 16 Indiana
Nov. 23 at Minnesota
Nov. 30 Penn State

* The early season slate is highlighted by a long road trip to the desert to battle Arizona State. The rebuilt secondary will be put to the test by a deep and talented returning Sun Devils offense led by star quarterback Taylor Kelly and offensive whiz Todd Graham. Expect the Devils to be looking for revenge from their 20-19 loss in Madison in 2010.

* Wisconsin begins Big Ten play in a big way with two divisional games before the end of September. This includes a road trip to Ohio State that will be an early Leaders Division elimination game. The welcomed bye week falls following the first five weeks of the year.

* The heart of the schedule isn’t all that daunting for the Badgers. Northwestern at home and a road trip to Illinois are manageable games located between the bye weeks. A road trip to rival Iowa is always a tough test for UW and fans on both sides are happy to get this contest back on the schedule. Wisconsin will play these five Big Ten games between Week 7 and 13: Northwestern, at Illinois, at Iowa, Indiana and at Minnesota.

* A November 9 visit from BYU is oddly placed for Wisconsin. Traditionally, UW plays its first four games against non-conference play so fans might be thrown for a loop when a non-conference opponent comes to town in Week 11. And BYU is a good one at that.

* The home game against Penn State to end the season will likely determine the Leaders Division pecking order behind Ohio State. It could easily be the difference between a New Year’s Day bowl for new coach Gary Andersen or a third-place trip to San Antonio.

* Wisconsin will miss Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State in crossover play.
 

Legends Division

Iowa

Aug. 31 Northern Illinois
Sept. 7 Missouri State
Sept. 14 at Iowa State
Sept. 21 Western Michigan
Sept. 28 at Minnesota
Oct. 5 Michigan State
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 at Ohio State
Oct. 26 Northwestern
Nov. 2 Wisconsin
Nov. 9 at Purdue
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 Michigan
Nov. 29 at Nebraska

* For a team that will be hovering right around the six-win mark, the non-conference schedule isn’t going to be favorable for getting to a bowl game. Iowa opens with Northern Illinois, a team it beat 18-17 in Chicago last season. The Huskies played in the Orange Bowl last season, and despite some losses on defense, could be favored to win in the opener.

* If the Hawkeyes lose the opener against Northern Illinois, it will only add to the pressure facing this team on Sept. 14 at Iowa State. Iowa has lost the last two meetings to the Cyclones, including a 9-6 game in Iowa City last year. The Hawkeyes have not lost three in a row in this series since 2000-02.

* Will Iowa retain the Floyd of Rosedale? The Hawkeyes beat Minnesota 31-13 last season but lost the last two matchups against the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. With Iowa and Minnesota expected to be picked near the bottom of the conference, this game could decide who avoids the cellar in the Legends Division.

* Iowa didn’t get any breaks from the schedule-makers, as it has a brutal crossover schedule. The Hawkeyes play at Ohio State and host Wisconsin – arguably the top two teams from the Leaders Division. Iowa also has to play on the road against Purdue, which isn’t a guaranteed win.

* Even if Iowa manages to sweep its non-conference schedule, it will need an upset win somewhere along the way to get bowl eligible. Where could that upset come? How about an Oct. 5 matchup against Michigan State? The Hawkeyes knocked off the Spartans 19-16 in overtime at East Lansing last season. Considering the returning personnel for both teams, Michigan State should be favored. However, Iowa usually thrives when it is under the radar. Will that theory hold true after a disappointing 4-8 season? 

 

Michigan

Aug. 31 Central Michigan
Sept. 7 Notre Dame
Sept. 14 Akron
Sept. 21 at Connecticut
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Minnesota
Oct. 12 at Penn State
Oct. 19 Indiana
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 at Michigan State
Nov. 9 Nebraska
Nov. 16 at Northwestern
Nov. 23 at Iowa
Nov. 30 Ohio State

* The Wolverines meet Connecticut for only the second time in school history on Sept. 21. Michigan defeated the Huskies 30-10 in 2010 but travel to Storrs for this matchup. Connecticut will be picked near the bottom of the Big East and has to rebuild a defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally in fewest yards allowed.

* The Michigan-Notre Dame matchup is one of the most intriguing early non-conference games of the 2013 season. The last four games in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less, with the Wolverines owning a 3-1 edge during that span. While Michigan isn’t expected to be a national title contender in 2013, a win over Notre Dame could set up a 7-0 mark for the Wolverines going into the Nov. 2 game at Michigan State.

* Michigan’s Oct. 12 date at Penn State will be the first meeting between these two programs since 2010. After winning nine consecutive matchups, the Wolverines have lost three in a row to the Nittany Lions. Penn State is breaking in a new quarterback and must restock its defensive line and linebacking corps, but it will give Michigan all it can handle in Happy Valley.

* Can Michigan regain control in its in-state rivalry with Michigan State? The Wolverines won 12-10 in Ann Arbor last year, which snapped a four-game losing streak to the Spartans. Prior to Michigan State’s winning streak, Michigan won 10 out of the last 12 meetings from 1996-2007.

* Michigan is facing one of the toughest November schedules of any team in the nation. The Wolverines play their top three challengers in the Legends Division and host rival Ohio State. Needless to say, if Michigan wins the division title – it will have earned it.

* Could the Nov. 23 game against Iowa be a trap game? Michigan has lost its last two meetings in Iowa City and three out of its last four against the Hawkeyes. Coming off a road game against Northwestern and with a home date against Ohio State looming one week later, the Wolverines have to be careful not to overlook Iowa.


Michigan State

Aug. 30 Western Michigan
Sept. 7 South Florida
Sept. 14 Youngstown State
Sept. 21 at Notre Dame
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 at Iowa
Oct. 12 Indiana
Oct. 19 Purdue
Oct. 26 at Illinois
Nov. 2 Michigan
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Nebraska
Nov. 23 at Northwestern
Nov. 30 Minnesota

* The Spartans couldn’t ask for a better schedule to start the 2013 season. With a offense that struggled mightily in 2010, along with a question mark at quarterback, matchups against Western Michigan, South Florida and Youngstown State should give Michigan State plenty of time to work out the kinks before a road trip to Notre Dame on Sept. 21. Speaking of the early-season road contest in South Bend…

* Michigan State has lost three out of its last four against Notre Dame, with the only win coming in 2010 on a trick play in overtime. The Spartans will be an underdog against the Fighting Irish, but this should be a good test for Michigan State’s offense against the Notre Dame defense.

* Regardless of what happens in the Sept. 21 date against Notre Dame, Michigan State has a favorable road in Big Ten play. The Spartans play Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois in October – all teams that will likely be picked near the bottom of their division. Although Michigan State lost to Iowa last season, there’s a good chance the Spartans are 7-1 going into November.

* If the Spartans want to be a factor in the Legends Division, they have to beat in-state rival Michigan on Nov. 2. The Wolverines snapped a four-game losing streak in this series last year, but Michigan State has won two in a row in East Lansing.

* Both of Michigan State’s bye weeks just happen to hit at the right time in 2013. The Spartans have an off date on Sept. 28 before the start of Big Ten play and also on Nov. 9 after playing Michigan. The second bye week is crucial, as the Spartans play at Nebraska and Northwestern the following two weekends.

* Even if Michigan State beats Michigan on Nov. 2, the Spartans still have to navigate two road dates late in the year: at Nebraska and at Northwestern. The Cornhuskers have won both matchups between these two teams as Big Ten foes, while the Wildcats knocked off Michigan State 23-20 in East Lansing last year.


Minnesota

Aug. 29 UNLV
Sept. 7 at New Mexico State
Sept. 14 Western Illinois
Sept. 21 San Jose State
Sept. 28 Iowa
Oct. 5 at Michigan
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 at Northwestern
Oct. 26 Nebraska
Nov. 2 at Indiana
Nov. 9 Penn State
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 Wisconsin
Nov. 30 at Michigan State

* Jerry Kill’s team showed progress last year, improving from 3-9 to a 6-7 mark with a bowl loss against Texas Tech. Although Minnesota was a better team in 2012 than it was in '11, a favorable non-conference schedule was a huge factor in getting to the postseason. The Golden Gophers have a similar setup in 2013, as UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois and San Jose State are all winnable games. The Spartans are the best team out of that group but will be breaking in a new coach.

* If Minnesota wants to go bowling, it has to start the season 5-0. Big Ten play opens with a favorable home game in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale against Iowa. The Hawkeyes won 31-13 in Iowa City last year, but Minnesota won the two previous games in the series.

* It’s a good thing Minnesota opens with Iowa, as it won’t catch a break the rest of October. The Golden Gophers play arguably the three best teams from the Legends Division in October, starting with Michigan on Oct. 5, Northwestern on Oct. 19 and then Nebraska on Oct. 26. If Minnesota starts 5-0, it’s possible it will be 5-3 by the time they play Indiana on Nov. 2.

* Assuming Minnesota is 5-3 before the Nov. 2 road date against Indiana, finding one more win in conference play isn’t going to be easy. The Hoosiers are a much-improved team, while the Golden Gophers will be underdogs in games against Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. It’s certainly not impossible, but Minnesota will have a tough task just getting to six victories.

* Minnesota has not defeated Wisconsin since 2003. The Badgers have won nine in a row against the Golden Gophers, with the last three matchups decided by 15 points or more.


Nebraska

Aug. 31 Wyoming
Sept. 7 Southern Miss
Sept. 14 UCLA
Sept. 21 South Dakota State
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Illinois
Oct. 12 at Purdue
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 at Minnesota
Nov. 2 Northwestern
Nov. 9 at Michigan
Nov. 16 Michigan State
Nov. 23 at Penn State
Nov. 29 Iowa

* Nebraska should score three easy wins in non-conference play with Wyoming, Southern Miss and South Dakota State. The Cowboys will be the toughest matchup from that trio, especially with the return of quarterback Brett Smith. However, Wyoming has to rebuild its offensive line and front seven on defense.

* The Cornhuskers’ toughest non-conference matchup should come against UCLA on Sept. 14. The Bruins defeated Nebraska 36-30 last season, which was the 11th meeting between these two teams in their program history. UCLA returns quarterback Brett Hundley but must replace running back Johnathan Franklin. Even with Franklin leaving, UCLA’s offense will be a difficult matchup for Nebraska’s rebuilt defense.

* If Nebraska can get by UCLA, there’s a good chance the Cornhuskers will be 7-0 heading into the final month of the season. However, there’s also a downside to the scheduling, as Nebraska plays its three toughest challengers in the Legends Division in November and has a road date at Penn State on Nov. 23. Ouch.

* Expect another close game when Northwestern and Nebraska meet on Nov. 2. The only two matchups these two teams have played as Big Ten foes have been decided by three points or less. And with both teams possessing some of the league’s top offensive playmakers, there should be no shortage of points on Nov. 2.

* Is the Nov. 9 matchup at Michigan the biggest game for Nebraska’s 2013 season? With Northwestern and Michigan State visiting Lincoln, there’s a good chance the Cornhuskers sweep both of those games. If Nebraska can win in Ann Arbor – which is no easy task considering the Wolverines beat the Cornhuskers 45-17 at Michigan in 2011 – the division title could be wrapped up, regardless of what happens in the final two games.

* Nebraska has won its only two meetings as a member of the Big Ten against Penn State. The Cornhuskers defeated the Nittany Lions 17-14 in Happy Valley in 2011 and won 32-23 in Lincoln last season.
 

Northwestern

Aug. 31 at California
Sept. 7 Syracuse
Sept. 14 Western Michigan
Sept. 21 Maine
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct.  5 Ohio State
Oct. 12 at Wisconsin
Oct. 19 Minnesota
Oct. 26 at Iowa
Nov. 2 at Nebraska
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 Michigan
Nov. 23 Michigan State
Nov. 30 at Illinois

* Non-conference games against California and Syracuse aren’t guaranteed wins, but Northwestern is catching both teams at the right time. The Wildcats travel to Berkeley for the first game of the season, but the Golden Bears are breaking in a new coaching staff and quarterback. And the same can be said for Syracuse, as it looks to find its footing under new coach Scott Shafer. Neither game will be a blowout victory for the Wildcats, but Northwestern should start the year with a 2-0 mark.

* The first bye week of 2013 comes at a good time for Northwestern. After a likely 4-0 start from non-conference action, Northwestern kicks off Big Ten play with a home date against Ohio State. The Wildcats have lost 28 out of the last 29 matchups to the Buckeyes. The only win came in 2004, with Northwestern pulling out a 33-27 victory in Evanston, Ill. Ohio State is expected to be one of the top five teams in most preseason polls this summer. Can Northwestern open Big Ten play with an upset? It’s certainly not out of the question.

* As if the Big Ten opener against Ohio State wasn’t tough enough, Northwestern travels to Wisconsin for its second conference contest. The Wildcats have not defeated the Badgers in Madison since 2000, but have split with UW in the last four meetings overall.

* After the brutal start to Big Ten play, Northwestern catches a break with Minnesota and Iowa to close out October. The Wildcats can’t afford to overlook anyone, but Iowa and Minnesota will be picked near the bottom of the conference. Expect Northwestern to have a 6-2 record heading into November.

* Even with the difficult start to the conference schedule, Northwestern still has a chance to make some noise in the division. With home games against Michigan and Michigan State, the Wildcats can win both contests and have an opportunity to get back into the division title mix. However, those two games won’t be the only thing that decides Northwestern’s title hopes, as a road game on Nov. 2 at Nebraska will be difficult. Three losses could win the Big Ten Legends Division. However, the Wildcats would feel a lot more comfortable if they finished conference play at 6-2.
 

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

 

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